Volume…what makes a good entertainer GREAT!

 

As someone who books bands for a living, I can’t believe I am going to say this. “Acts that don’t actively monitor their volume drive me nuts.”

 

There I said it.

 

Now, I am specifically speaking to the artists who perform in “background music scenarios.” Performance spaces in hotel lobbies, small bars, and restaurants that typically don’t focus on the entertainment (e.g. they don’t have a stage and dancing isn’t encouraged). In these situations, it is crucial that the artist pay careful attention to their volume as they are not the center of attention. Unfortunately, many newer performers have trouble grasping this concept and I believe that inexperience is to blame.

 

If you were to observe a veteran performer against a greenhorn in a similar environment, you will likely see what I mean.

 

Thanks to years of trial and error, veterans have been psychologically conditioned to accept the fact that they are not the focus of the room, which places them in the proper headspace to handle the gig. This comes through in everything from their song choice to their banter with customers and even how they read the room. As such, a true club pro will read a “background music” gig differently. If they see patrons leaning in too close to talk or notice the overall volume has increased. They will intuitively pull back the dynamics to restore order. The true masters will even alter their song selection choosing keys with darker…less bright characteristics such as D over E Major.  Notes that don’t conflict with the timbre of the average speaking voice and thus raise the overall decibel level in the venue.

 

As mentioned, seasoned pros typically fair better in these situations. However, other psychological factors come into play.  Artists still seeking the coveted “record deal” will have more trouble adjusting to these situations as their professional focus is to break through the noise and get noticed. As such, many have (rightfully so) adopted a mentality where they seek to command the stage and everyone’s attention. Chances are if an entertainer has more original tunes in their catalog than covers. They may be inside that headspace and the booker should enact more due diligence and proceed with caution.

 

A final word of warning is this. When vetting an act propositioning you for a gig. Many will say anything to earn the job and that includes telling you that they can meet any volume requirements.  It is always best to look beyond their puffery, especially if you notice that they are less-experience or more focused on the original music track of their career.

 

As for you artists out there. Don’t be discouraged by these gigs. For one, they can supplement your career and put food on the table.  They are also an excellent way for you to better your room-reading skills and ability to perform at softer volumes, thus increasing your overall dynamic control. These skills will come into play in other avenues of your career.

The Risk Entertainment Buyers Face

 

My business card says agent, but truth-be-told, I am actually a buyer.  A buyer is slightly different than a booking agent in that we purchase entertainment for a particular venue. Booking agents generally have a list of acts they represent and spend their days pitching them to various venues and guys like me.

Buyers are hired for their entertainment expertise, connections, and ability to negotiate better deals for their clients. Those deals boil down to less money spent versus more money earned (relatively speaking of course). To get to that point, the buyer plays arbiter for all parties in the negotiation until the deal is struck. Unfortunately, sitting in the middle of said deal means that the buyer assumes the post of whipping boy should anything negatively impact the transaction before, during, and after.

In most negotiations, the risk is generally carried 50/50. If I have a contract to buy widgets from Johnny, LLC and I fail to pay. It is my phone that rings off the hook. Flip the script and Johnny forgets to ship my widgets in time. It’s his ringtone that gets overplayed. In a buyer-backed deal, they would sit in-between Johnny, LLC and the customer and get to deal with ALL of those calls.

Entertainers often overlook the risks buyers face and nowhere is it more evident than in their sales pitch. “Book our band…we have 1,900 followers on Instagram.” “Hire us for your corporate event…we really like Propecia. Come on!…what do YOU have to lose?” These statements tell us that somewhere musicians and bands are landing gigs on pitches like this. Most of the time, this happens with smaller venues whose entertainment is handled by an overworked bar or restaurant manager. Unfortunately, this has done a disservice to entertainers who want to move up the food chain and eventually deal with buyers like me.

I immediately ask potential acts to fill out our entertainer application.  It is a great litmus test to see if the artist is professional enough to follow directions.  It also forces them to write down the correct name, URLs, and contact information, which results in fewer errors. *Hint…this is one of the reasons YOU fill out your forms at medical practices.

Then, I check out their videos, social presence, other venues they have played, and even Google the band to see what comes up. If everything looks good. The next step is to go see the act live.  I have discussed this before in another post called Using A&R in Venue Management, so I won’t bore you with the details. (But check it out…it’s REALLY good… my mom says so.)

If all the stars align, I book them for one of our venues, but on a trial basis of limited shows. I can’t tell you how many times I have watched a great band in one venue completely falter in another. This is because numerous variables come into play including everything from the gear we use to the side of town we are on compared to that of the band’s home turf. I also talk about this in my post Listen Through the Show. Check it. My mom digs that one too.

Experience has taught me that these extra steps greatly mitigate the chances of a bad show in our venue.  And as a buyer, mitigating those chances is the name of the game, so if you are an artist looking for a gig. Be prepared.

  • Have live un-doctored videos on YouTube or Vimeo ready to share.
  • Have a social presence and use it to show that you connect with fans through lots of likes, follows, post interactions, and updates from your crew.
  • Have a list of your upcoming gigs readily available online. Sometimes, dudes like me have a few free nights and are looking to see a band we are interested in.
  • Be patient.
  • Put yourself in our shoes. If I didn’t know you. Would you book my act?  Now support that answer with a big fat WHY?

Keep in mind. Booking agents, buyers, managers, and the venues we work with absolutely want you to succeed. Simply put, we all make more money when you do. The best thoroughly vet their potential acts to make sure we can prepare you for that success. Work with them and your gigs will only get better.

 

The Dangers of Over-negotiation and Increasing Perceived Risk

 

When negotiating, be careful not to go too far. This week, I was negotiating a small sale with someone…. let’s say. Not that experienced in deals. We had both made our demands and concessions and it was clear a balance had been struck. When it came time to close, he made another demand that would have brought us back to square one. I researched my market, my position, and kindly told him of other persons selling a similar item. However, if he still wanted my product. He could get it for market price.

My ultimate position was not enacted due to emotion. Rather, this customer’s final action increased my perceived risk of the deal. The concessions he initially earned, were judged on my risk analysis that he could pony up the funds, close, and wouldn’t return a vintage item that could be harmed with further shipments. Remember, risk is part of the deal. We learn it with car insurance, health care, and mortgages. It should be a part of any decision.

Communicate Right or Get Lost in the Shuffle

 

I get a lot of emails every day. I mean – a FREEKIN’ LOT! However, my inbox doesn’t compare with some of the people I work with. Case in point, I was having lunch with a colleague for a major cruise brand and during our hour together, he received 35 emails, a bunch of texts, and a few calls.

 

It may be difficult to understand just how complex email management can become if you have never worked in an environment based on group decisions with partners in multiple time zones that require written communication to audit deals being made. This is exactly the case for booking agents, concert buyers, and entertainment managers. In our business, the cc (and sometimes bcc) are commonplace, which quickly converts one email into double digit chains plaguing our inboxes.

 

Of course, there are programs and protocols one can follow to better manage their inbox. However, each of these emails (or at the very least the subject) needs to be read and, if warranted, investigated and responded to.

 

So, why is this entertainment blogger discussing the woes of our email management. Well, the answer is to help artists looking for work to better communicate with us, so you don’t get lost in the shuffle.  Here are a few pieces of advice I want to give.

 

  1. Keep it simple.  Remember grade school and how they taught you to outline your paragraph in the first line by dictating the who, what, where, when, and why? Follow that rule. Don’t bury the story.  Provide us with your website and video links upfront along with what you are looking for and what your act brings to the table.  We don’t need to hear your life story. How you learned to play the guitar at six. How you met John Mayer that one time and he dug your tune. Let us know what you are going to do for us.
  2. Keep it to email if possible. Facebook, Instagram, and other social media channels are great, but they are not the best place to solicit a new client.  For one, if the company is huge like a cruise line. The person reading those messages probably has nothing to do with entertainment, so you are relying on them to forward your message to the right person. If the company is smaller, the person handling those messages is probably wearing 100 different hats and will likely look at your message and forget about it until they are managing the site again in the future. When you send an email, it at least ends up in the correct inbox…barring spam filter interference.
  3. Better than email… the website form. If the agency or venue has a form “specific for entertainment applicants” use that. They did this for a reason. For instance, the company I work for, Mike Moloney Entertainment, put a web application form that forwards all applicants to the email accounts of five agents.  I know for a fact that many larger cruise companies have their online forms set-up in a similar fashion.  In all instances, the forms are designed to capture the data we need to make a decision and (hopefully) a deal. Do yourself a favor and follow our lead.
  4. Don’t spam!
  5. Don’t spam! See what I did there?  This one is so important, I put it in twice.  NOBODY likes spam, so don’t be that person. Now, there are many ways you can spam a prospect through email. Sending the same message to every email address you can find within the intended agency. Including them on your mailing list without asking. Emailing them every day. Emailing, then messaging on all available social channels are all ways you become a spammer and it generally doesn’t work in your favor.
  6. Do some research on who you are emailing. Does the booking agent work in your genre of music? Are you applying to a cruise agency, but you get sea-sick? Is the booker outside of your drawing ability? It doesn’t hurt to do a little research to focus your pitch, and with so much information at your fingertips it is rather easy to be properly prepared.

As an agent, I can attest that most of us are always hungry to find the next great act for our venues. However, that is only a small percentage of our business. The largest chunk of our time is spent putting the deal together and then executing it on show day. A lot of artists feel that the “squeaky wheel will get the grease” and in some instances that is true.  However, if the driver can’t hear that squeak. Nobody will be getting to their destination. Follow these steps to increase the probability that we will hear you.

 

 

CwF + RtB in the Drumming Community

Spirit and Groove’s Instagram presence is being established as a community of drummers to share their beats, ideas, drum-pinions, and grooves.  Check out our recent promotion video.

 

 

We do this because: (1) we totally dig drummers and want to spend as much time as we can hanging out with people who are generally more happy than anyone else; (2) it is part of our marketing plan, which is founded on the Connect with Fans + Reason to Buy (CwF + RtB) model.

 

Nine Inch Nails frontman, Trent Reznor coined the term CwF + RtB during his post Napster career. Like those around him in the music industry, Reznor needed to find ways to create his own stream of revenue without the assistance of major label deal money that had disappeared with the collapse of physical music sales.

 

CwF + RtB is one of those methodologies that is so simple it is complex (or we make it so). Basically, you build a fan base and then give them reasons to buy into your brand.  The math totally makes sense.  If you have a loyal fan base of 10,000 fans and you get them to spend $100 per year on your brand. You earn $1,000,000 per year.

 

I would say $1,000,000 per year is a good chunk of change for any small business and one that is completely reachable if your foundation fanbase is world-wide and within a supportive niche. This is why we chose it for Spirit and Groove.

 

Plus it is a REALLY cool way to build a company.

 

I mean, we totally dig this. For the first years of our business we have to concentrate on connecting with, watching, listening, and learning from drummers.  For a drummer, what could be better?

 

So, if you play the drums or like to groove. Connect with @spiritandgroove on Instagram and tag us in your groovy videos. As of the publishing of this blog, we are within 200 followers of hitting 10K on our feed and when we do that, we will celebrate with deals and monthly contests where community involvement will be the key indicator of how many drum tees we give out and whom earns that drumming clothing.

 

 

 

 

Buddy, Berklee, and Big Swing Face… a Lesson in Fundamentals for Musicians.

 

Buddy Rich Big Swing Face

I have listed to a lot of music over the years…I mean a lot. One of my favorite albums is Big Swing Face, a live album recorded over two nights by The Buddy Rich Big Band in 1967. There are a number of reasons that I enjoy this record. For one, it stars the indisputable king of drumming, Buddy Rich. Second, it is a big band album and as a drummer who has driven thirteen to eighteen piece swing bands, I can attest there is perhaps no greater challenge to the craft of the instrument. Each section of a big-band pulls/pushes time differently. Trombones, due to the difficult nature of their instrument, will pull. Trumpets, with their top of the spectrum tones and quick staccato, will push. As such, the drummer must control those fluctuations, all while reading and matching hits with each section.

Buddy Rich was a master of this.

He was also one of the hardest bandleaders ever to walk this earth. He berated, threw tantrums, and regularly fired band members for the simplest of infractions. If you want to hear just how rough Buddy was on his band mates, and if a whole lot of swearing doesn’t offend you, take a listen to The Buddy Rich Bus Tapes and be mortified by his leadership style.

However, before you cast judgment on Buddy, do two things. First, remember that Buddy always gave at least 110% on the stage night after night right up until the end. Don’t believe me, watch this video from 1982 when the drummer reportedly had a heart attack during his solo on the last song and still finished the set. Second, take another listen to Big Swing Face. This album is virtually flawless in every regard from time, to phrasing, and intonation. These musicians nailed their takes live without the aid of computer software to fix their mistakes or enhance their sound in post-production. The latter is a very important lesson when it comes to making music.

Garbage in…garbage out.

I was first introduced to this phrase during a late night recording session at Berklee College of Music in the mid 90’s. At that time, we recorded to tape and ProTools was still in the early adopter phase and not available to anyone with a computer. The option to fix takes later wasn’t as simple as it is now. Luckily, all Berklee students (including those in the production and engineering program) must undergo intense fundamental courses in ear-training, harmony, and private instrument studies so they know how to make musicians sound better BEFORE they are patched into the board. They understand that the fundamentals of the craft will always trump technology.

So why am I sharing this story?

Now that I work behind the stage booking entertainers I hear a lot of excuses, especially from those of the younger generation, as to why they aren’t sounding their best. The monitors weren’t right. The room was dead. The engineer doesn’t know what he is doing. We would sound better with our equipment…with our engineer. Truth is, the excuses are sometime so relentless that it gets me thinking that it could be the outside environment and not my musicians. Then I cue up Big Swing Face and I am reminded that nearly fifty years ago sixteen musicians could perform some of the most complex music live. Record it and wind up with an almost flawless album all without today’s modern technology as a crutch. Swing Face teaches me to constantly listen beyond the front of house and focus on the musicianship happening on stage. To seek out entertainers who are good at the fundamentals of their craft. The singer who knows exactly how far her mic should be from her mouth. The DJ who can match keys and tempos as well as beats, and the drummer who can swing a group of multi-time musicians into shape. I know that if their fundamentals are on point, the rest of the show is simply enhancing those skills, which is much easier for all involved and the key ingredient to a stellar performance.